To say 2020 has been a weird year is an understatement. Between upended routines, lost jobs, heightened anxiety and a creeping feeling that this is the new normal, it's hard to believe that we're only seven months into the year.
While looking for silver linings at a time when so many people are getting sick and struggling to make ends meet is tough and even unfair, one thing this year has allowed many of us to do is examine what the word "ambition" — typically reserved for work and a glorification of the hustle — actually means.
"Building Silk + Sonder has made me realize that ambition is truly powered by self-acceptance," says S+S founder Meha Agrawal. "Historically, I misunderstood ambition to be ‘hustle hard, sacrifice fun, approach burnout.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth, at least for me. Ambition to me now means carving your own path towards building a better tomorrow rather than following someone else’s footsteps."
Meha isn't alone in feeling this way: Mental health experts are adamant about redefining ambition, too. Here are some new ways to start thinking about this word.
Ambition as an internal fire
When you think of an ambitious person, what comes up? Perhaps you imagine someone staying up until three a.m. working, only to wake up four hours later to keep going. But clinical psychologist Michael Alcee says this isn't a helpful or even accurate picture of ambition.
"Ambition is more of an internal fire that wants to be shared with the external world," he says. "When ambition is connected to self-acceptance, it becomes tempered so that it can be appreciated by oneself and the world."
This happens, he explains, because ambition is transformed into a creative act. "It becomes about the sharing of oneself in an open way that can spark the creative fires of someone else, too. In a lovely paradox, the embracing of oneself becomes the embracing of the other."
Consider being ambitious about self-care
If you've only been ambitious in a work and career sense, the idea of being ambitious about self-care might seem like a crazy concept. Trust us, though: Devoting a lot of time and energy to figuring out what helps you feel calm and restored can be a huge step in getting to that crucial place of self-acceptance.
"In order to be ambitious about self-care, we have to have reframe it as a place of getting deeper with ourselves so we can serve others more fully, so we can be more productive, more connected, and more creative," says Alcee. "This takes away that lingering guilt many of us have about self-care because we realize it isn't just about us, it's about something much bigger: Uncovering our larger mission."
Remember that ambition isn't a dirty word.
Unfortunately, people often associate the word "ambition" with greed or materialism. This couldn't be further from the truth.
"Similar to when we talk about narcissism, we forget that there is such a thing, as psychologist Erich Fromm wrote about, as self-love," Alcee explains. "It is the foundation for loving and connecting with others. So as long as ambition is connected to an honest and vulnerable self-love, it allows one to open up to oneself and the world from a place of true giving."
Ok, but what if you do want to apply ambition to your work?
There's no shame in that! But focusing on finding your Ikigai — or the intersection of the thing you love and the thing you're good at — is essential.
"In order to get there, though, you have to truly and honestly know yourself," says Alcee. "So the first tip is really learn and examine yourself, your areas of passion, your areas of strength, and even your areas of distaste and discomfort. Notice the different sides of yourself, even if they seem to contradict each other at first."
Alcee adds that when you do find this, it's important to remember that you don't have to push super hard to make your dreams come true. The beauty of finding your Ikigai is that a lot of things will fall into place naturally.
Ultimately, how you define ambition as up to you, but we encourage you to allow it to begin with self-acceptance. Because it will open a lot of doors not only for yourself, but for the world.
What does ambition mean to you? Comment below or join us on Instagram to continue the conversation. And as always, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today for a guided self care journey designed specifically for you.